A history on natural fibres

 Natural fibres have been around for a long time and will continue to be around for much longer. As described by the Encylopedia Britannica, Natural Fibres are “any hairlike raw material directly obtainable from an animal, vegetable, or mineral source and convertible into nonwoven fabrics”[i]

It’s out of the textile industry, or the industry devoted to fibres, filaments, and yarns capable of being crafted into cloth or fabric for the production of material.[ii] That’s a huge industry, international in fact, which is connected to the local economies of many, many developing nations.

And these same developing nations have consumers throughout the world – and our concern is for the sustainable and ethical working conditions. With the strong emphasis on natural fibres production because of their variety and their ability to decompose and not simply accumulate in landfills.


Natural fibres, as utilized in small-scale and rather ancient textile industries, dates back to before the era of recording history.[iii] Flax and wool appear to be the most prominent sources in those times of ‘pre-history,’ which have been found at various Swiss excavation sites dating to the 7th and 6th centuries BC; and this coincides with multiple vegetable fibres utilized in a similar manner by ancient peoples.[iv]


Some would claim that the oldest are “flax (10000BC) cotton (5000 BC) and silk (2700 BC), but even jute and coir have been cultivated since antiquity.”[v] The more detailed histories appear to exist with hemp natural fibre, at least as a cultivated fibre plant emerging out of Southeast Asia, which “spread to China” around 4500 BC.[vi]

After this, along came the introduction, or the development/invention of spinning and weaving linen around 3400 – at least, and likely before that time in Egypt based on the archaeological record, and so flax was developed before that time too.[vii] There were even developments around that time in India with cotton (3,000 BC).[viii]


Lastly, we come to China and silk from this ancient era. The manufacture, and one can reasonably suppose distribution, of silk and its associated products came from them. According to Encyclpedia Britannica, it was “highly developed” at around 2640 BC with the “invention and development of sericulture – a sort of silkworm cultivation to get raw silk, wow![ix]

Phew, that’s a lot of information. Part II, we’ll cover some of the more recent history of natural fibres, and how they came to be – stay tuned!

[i] natural fibre. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from Britannica.[ii] textile. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from Britannica.[iii] natural fibre. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from Britannica.[iv] Ibid.[v] Bcomp Technologies. (n.d.). Natural Fibre Specialists. Retrieved from BCOMP.[vi] natural fibre. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from Britannica.[vii] Ibid.[viii] Ibid.[ix] Ibid.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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